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University of Iowa to honor Mary Sue Coleman, Stofan with degrees

Carver Trust giving earns it another campus name

Mary Sue Coleman  (Photo courtesy of the Association of American Universities.)
Mary Sue Coleman (Photo courtesy of the Association of American Universities.)

IOWA CITY — Her name for two-plus decades has been linked to the University of Iowa, but former UI President Mary Sue Coleman did not receive an education here — at least not in the traditional sense.

In a professional and administrative sense, though, Coleman started her journey on the Iowa City campus toward becoming one of the nation’s “best college presidents.” And the University of Iowa seeks to recognize that relationship this spring by awarding Coleman an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree — a request that will go before the Board of Regents next week.

Additionally, the university wants to award an honorary Doctor of Science degree to Ellen R. Stofan, a famed planetary scientist who’s worked closely with the UI Department of Physics and Astronomy over the years.

If approved, both woman will receive their honorary UI degrees during the institution’s spring 2019 commencement ceremonies.

“The University of Iowa wishes to recognize Dr. Mary Sue Coleman and Dr. Ellen R. Stofan for their contributions to their fields and society, and to honor their outstanding professional achievements,” according to the UI request to the board.

Coleman today serves as president of the American Association of Universities — founded in 1900 to monitor the academic performance of premier research institutions across the United States and Canada. Today’s 62 AAU members — including UI and Iowa State University, along with the likes of Harvard and Duke — earn the majority of competitively-awarded federal research funding and “collectively help shape policy for higher education, science, and innovation,” according to the association.

She served as 18th University of Iowa president — the first female in that role — from 1995 to 2002, before leaving to become University of Michigan’s first female president from 2002 to 2014.


At Iowa, Coleman “energized the university, enhanced its academic standing among peers, and skillfully led it through a number of challenges — including bringing the campus together in the days and weeks following 9/11,” according to the UI honorary-degree request to the Board of Regents.

During her time on the UI campus, Coleman expanded the health sciences; enhanced the UI writing programs; promoted Iowa City’s cultural capital, propelling it to become a UNESCO City of Literature; and led a fundraising campaign that amassed more than $1 billion.

She since has established the Kenneth and Mary Sue Coleman UI Presidential Scholarship — and has returned to the UI campus to visit and speak.

At Michigan, Coleman helped achieve a landmark Supreme Court victory related to diversity through affirmative action. In 2009, Time magazine named her among the 10 best American university presidents for her strength in fundraising and emphasis on top-quality research.

Ellen R. Stofan

As an advocate for public engagement in space science and diversity in STEM fields, Stofan’s career has “centered on understanding the geology of Solar System inner planets Venus, Mars and Earth, as well as Saturn’s moon, Titan,” according to Board of Regents documents.

She’s worked as a leader on international spacecraft missions like Cassini — to Saturn — and the European Space Agency’s mission to Mars.

Five years ago, Stofan was appointed NASA chief scientist, working on science-related programs, strategic planning, and investments. Among other things, she’s helped guide development of a long-range plan to get humans to Mars.

Earlier this year, Stofan became the first woman to lead the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Over the years, she’s worked closely with the UI Department of Physics and Astronomy as an associate member of the “Cassini Mission to Saturn” radar team and a co-investigator on the “Mars Express Mission’s MARSIS sounder.”

“She was invited by the Lecture Committee to speak on campus in spring 2018,” according to the Board of Regents request. “Through that lecture and other generous interactions with students stoked the enthusiasm of many aspiring young scientists.”


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Other UI honorary degrees conferred over the years include Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson in December 2017; Mary Louise Petersen, former Board of Regents president and residence hall namesake in spring 2013; and former Iowa Governor Robert D. Ray in Spring 2012.

Roy J. Carver Department of Biomedical Engineering

UI next week also will seek permission to honor the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust — which has made many gifts to the campus over the years, including a newly-announced $12 million commitment — with another naming recognition.

The university is asking for Board of Regents approval to christen its biomedical engineering department the “Roy J. Carver Department of Biomedical Engineering.”

The Carver trust has been supporting the department for two decades, giving nearly $3 million toward laboratories, research, and faculty. A new $12 million commitment to the department, the largest ever to the UI College of Engineering, will support a “major initiative in respiratory and pulmonary biomedical engineering,” according to board documents.

The goal of the research is to find solutions for lung disease and respiratory systems disorders, according to a news release out of the UI Center for Advancement.

“The Carver Charitable Trust has demonstrated its unwavering commitment to elevating research that addresses the most pressing human health issues,” UI President Bruce Harreld said in a statement.

Alec Scranton, dean of the UI College of Engineering, said a gift like this “not only increase the national and global visibility and impact of the future UI Roy J. Carver Department of Biomedical Engineering but it also will allow us to recruit stellar faculty members, enroll enterprising graduate students, and produce research that will transform lives.”

Lynette Marshall, president and CEO of the UI Center for Advancement, noted this most recent Carver gift builds on 30 years of support to the university.

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